Improving Laryngeal Cancer Survival

Improving Laryngeal Cancer Survival

Last year, nearly 10,000 Americans were diagnosed with cancer of the larynx, or voice box. Oncologists have traditionally treated this kind of cancer by surgically removing all or part of the voice box, a procedure that leads to significant quality-of-life concerns, given that the larynx plays a role in breathing, swallowing, and talking. But some patients with laryngeal cancer respond well to chemotherapy and radiation and are able to preserve their larynxes.

A recent study by University of Michigan researchers now shows that the earlier physicians can identify which patients are likely to benefit most from chemoradiation treatment and which patients would be better off having surgery, the greater the survival rates are for patients in both categories. The study appeared in the February 1, 2006, issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“Approximately 30 to 40 percent of patients with advanced laryngeal cancer will not be cured with chemotherapy and radiation,” said study author Gregory Wolf, professor and chair of otolaryngology at the UM Medical School.

“The survival rates for such patients have traditionally been poor. That’s why these patients should be identified as early as possible. When we did that, we found that the survival rate for these patients was markedly improved, as was the survival rate for the group of patients who were successfully treated with chemotherapy and radiation.”

Jeremy Taylor, professor of biostatistics at the School of Public Health and of radiation oncology at the UM Medical School, was a study co-author. “This trial was a nice example of a study in which there were dynamic treatment decisions,” Taylor said. “There is much current interest in finding ways to individualize therapies for cancer, in which biomarker measurements taken before or shortly after an initial treatment can be used to select the best subsequent treatment for the patient.”

The researchers plan a larger, randomized multicenter trial using this approach in patients with cancers of the tongue base and tonsil.

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